Metro 2033 Review

Nate Gillick

Creating a truly immersive game world is no easy task. To create a world so compelling that players forget they're playing a game, everything must be perfect, from the visuals and audio to the characters and environments. Developer 4A Games should be commended for Metro 2033's carefully crafted world - with HUD-free gameplay - that forces players to pay attention to in-game cues to know what is happening. Based on Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel of the same name, Metro 2033 takes players on a bleak journey through post-apocalyptic Moscow. It's a bizarre but well-paced ride, though hardly a perfect one.

Rangers don't always travel the wastelands alone.

After nuclear war has ravaged the globe, some of the world's last survivors seek refuge in Moscow's underground subway system, while above ground, mutant abominations have inherited the earth. As a mysterious and powerful humanoid race known as the Dark Ones threatens to destroy Artyom's home station, the young man sets off on a quest through the underworld to find a way to save those he cares most about. Metro's story gets the job done, providing a good variety of locations to visit and enemies to slay, but fails to provide much in the way of depth or compelling characters. Artyom plays the Gordon Freeman "silent protagonist" card throughout the game, speaking only during loading screens, which is a decision we didn't care for. If the narrative is about Artyom's quest, why does the central character have almost nothing to say about it? While Valve got away with it in Half Life due to a rich cast of unique characters and plot twists, Metro 2033 has none of that, and we wonder how much of Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel got lost in translation.

Fighting mutant beasts through dark tunnels or across Moscow's barren surface is such an immersive experience that some players may forget about the plot entirely. Metro 2033 uses a minimal HUD, showing nothing more than the current amount of ammo in the player's gun, and how much ammo they have left. Everything else is represented by some in-game cues. Artyom will pull out a clipboard to look at his current objectives, and can strike a lighter to look at them if it's dark out. Of course, this all happens in real time, so players need to be sure not to look up their objectives when monsters are breathing down their necks. Determining how much remains on a gas mask filter can be done by checking the watch on Artyom's left wrist, which also has a gauge to show how well hidden or exposed he is. Listening to Artyom's breathing is important to know when the air is clean and when it's poisonous, and the quality of his gas mask is not shown by some on-screen meter, but by the amount of cracks on it, which obscure the player's vision. Allow your gas mask to become too damaged in combat, and it's game over from breathing poison air. Keeping the HUD minimal keeps the focus on the gameplay, and provides little to pull players out of the action.

Despite being a barren wasteland, players will find plenty of variety in post-apocalyptic Moscow's environments. A good balance has been struck between going through dark subway tunnels and exploring the surface. Given the setting, it's commendable that players can go from one dark tunnel to the next and not feel like they've seen the same thing twice. Metro 2033's pacing throws a set-piece battle or rail-shooter segment in often enough to break the established pattern of fighting through one relatively linear area to the next, which keeps the action fresh from start to finish.

Air filters don't last forever...

In Metro's world, there are two types of ammunition; dirty rounds manufactured by the metro citizens, and higher grade military rounds which were manufactured before civilization collapsed. Military grade ammo not only deals significantly more damage, but is also used as currency to be exchanged for higher amounts of dirty ammo, or new weapons. Knowing that you're literally shooting your money away when using the superior ammo could have been a brilliant way to add tension to the game, if we ever felt that saving up that ammo actually mattered. In our experience, military grade rounds were useful only to exchange for other types of ammo when needed. Supplies like air filters and medkits were too common to merit purchasing, as were the guns. Virtually everything vendors sell can be found dropped off of dead enemies, making it meaningless to shell out the large amount of ammo necessary to purchase them directly. Thus, unless you're a real ammo guzzler, the amount of military grade ammo in your possession is largely meaningless, showcasing a fumbled opportunity to add more tension to the game.

Stealth plays a part in some of Metro's missions, but this aspect of the game doesn't feel as well integrated as it could have been. These levels were designed with enough potential paths that players can set up stealth kills by throwing knives, using silenced weapons, or just sneak by the enemy completely. Unfortunately, it's hard to know what will tip off the enemy to your position, as some times we snuck passed a guard at pretty close range, and other times we got blasted, while the lighting and other factors seemed the same. Also, enemies seem to lack an "on alert" status. At the slightest sound, they'll go from docile to full aggression. Even worse, they seem to be able to instantly home in on a player's locations, with no need to look around or actually search. Instant detection should anything go wrong makes taking a stealth approach through any area a dicey proposition, relegating the stealth approach to something we opted for only when chasing achievements.

Other smaller issues cropped up from time to time to pull us out of the immersion. The shooting controls feel too loose, making it more difficult than necessary to aim precisely where desired. Most of the time this isn't a problem, but it can be quite annoying when facing off against multiple enemies. We also noticed that some shots just don't seem to register. Every once in a while, an enemy would take a point-blank shotgun blast to the face and not even blink. Artyom's allies aren't particularly bright either, shooting at random targets without apparent reason; for example, shooting a beast ten yards down range while another pummels them from their left. They don't concentrate fire, or have any notion of protecting a mission critical VIP. None of these problems will ruin the experience, although they have the potential to make certain sequences of the game tougher than necessary.

My double barrels say hello.

The bleak post-apocalyptic world of Moscow is well represented in Metro 2033's visuals. Dark, dingy, and painstakingly detailed environments do an exceptional job of creating an immersive and depressing universe. Character models are less impressive, with many soldiers looking a lot alike. While the roars and growls of the metro's beasts are legitimately terrifying, and the voices of the Dark Ones sent chills up our spines, the rest of Metro 2033's audio package is thoroughly mediocre. Guns sound underpowered, the music isn't memorable, and there's far too few voice actors, to the extent that most of the characters sound exactly the same. 4A Games would have done well to hire additional voice actors to make their characters feel more unique.

Metro 2033's achievement list is pretty straightforward, with most of its points coming easily enough if you pay attention to the list, particularly since there are no difficulty achievements. Earning points for killing a certain number of enemies with a weapon type, or a set number of one enemy type aren't original ideas, but manage to provide a sense of achievement anyway. Several levels offer achievements for completing them in different ways, from a stealthy approach to guns blazing. Having to explore every area of the game, find every military grade bullet (some of which are very well hidden), and earn the alternate ending may cause some frustration for completionists, as these achievements are more of a pain than their point values reflect.

Metro 2033 provides an immersive and bleak universe to explore, with excellent pacing and varied environments that keep the action fresh from beginning to end. The roars of mutant beasts and the bizarre voices of the Dark Ones sent chills down our spines that will be remembered long after we finished the game, and the HUD-free gameplay kept us absorbed in every moment of it. Unfortunately, a bland narrative, inconsistent stealth system, and multiple smaller issues kept Metro from realizing its full potential, and it's a shame the game provides little for replay value to draw players back in after the credits have rolled.

Unfortunately it's a mixed bag. The sounds of the enemies do a lot to instill a sense of fear in the player, but the rest of the audio package is generic, and the small number of voice actors means most characters sound exactly the same.

Post-apocalyptic Moscow is one depressing place, playing host to a variety of environments each detailed enough to tell a story of its own. Interesting environments and hideous enemies make up for some repetitive character models.

Metro 2033 plays like any other shooter, though the shooting controls feel looser than most, and some shots don't seem to register properly.

We love the immersion cutting out the HUD and forcing players to pay attention to in-game cues brings to the gameplay. Metro 2033 has excellent pacing, and a good balance between exploring dark tunnels and the surface. If only that immersion were paired with a narrative and characters that were worth anything. It's also a shame the ammo system can't generate the tension and force players to make the hard choices it could have. While that first playthrough is fun, Metro 2033 has little in the way of replay value.

Taking multiple paths through some of the missions offers modest replayability in a game that otherwise has little. Despite their generic nature, the weapon and enemy kill achievements still manage to feel satisfying, but we're not fans of having to find every area or military grade bullet in the game. Why bog down such immersive gameplay with a collectable hunt?

Metro 2033 provides an immersive and bleak universe to explore, with excellent pacing and varied environments that keep the action fresh from beginning to end. We loved the HUD-free gameplay, but a bland narrative full of unmemorable characters, an inconsistent stealth system, and multiple smaller issues kept Metro from realizing its full potential.

Game navigation